Wisconsin’s Cultural Organizations Lead the Way

REMINDER: Applications for our first round of Wisconsin Humanities CARES Relief Grants are due this Friday, May 15th at 4:30 PM. Stay tuned for information about the next deadline coming up this summer.

We are so impressed by the ways people around the state are stepping forward to meet today’s challenges. Maria Parrott-Ryan, the producer of Love Wisconsin, recently reached out to the executive director of the Neenah Historical Society to ask for her perspective during this extraordinary time. The Neenah Historical Society has received grants for many of their amazing public programs from the Wisconsin Humanities Council.

We found Jane’s optimism and ideas so inspiring we couldn’t wait to share her thoughts with you. Be sure to follow Love Wisconsin on Facebook to meet more extraordinary people from all over our great state.

“My family has roots in Neenah that go back to the mid-1800s. I was born and raised here, as was my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother. My brother has always been the family historian, and he had written a book and came to town to do a presentation on it for the Neenah Historical Society. He said, ‘Why aren’t you involved in the Historical Society?’ because I’m the only one of our seven siblings who still live in Neenah.

I was too busy with raising kids, and I just hadn’t gotten involved with it yet. But now I’ve made up for it. I started as a volunteer, then I was on the board, and I’ve been the executive director for the past eight years.

What we strive to do is bring our history to life for the community. We try to tell inspiring and interesting stories that help people get a better perspective on today by looking at the past.

Right now, our exhibits are closed, and we had to cancel the history camp that we do for kids in the community. It’s heartbreaking, because those face-to-face opportunities with visitors and students—you can’t duplicate that with a virtual experience.

We will try to make a short video of the current exhibit, which we’re so proud of. It’s so timely: it’s all about the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. All of that has just disappeared, as far as what’s on people’s radar. They’re not thinking about it or celebrating it, which is a shame. We’re excited about our next exhibit, too, which is about the positive impact of immigration in our community. But now we’re trying to decide—do we make it virtual or not?

We try to have a very active Facebook page, and I love that it really demonstrates how much the community craves connection. They crave connection to the past, to the stories of the community, and to each other. We shared a story recently about the history of the rocket ship slide that used to be here at Riverside Park. That story reached almost 33,000 people. That’s more than the population of our city! That’s pretty cool. People really do crave connection to their community, so I love that we can use social media to do that.

It’s very important for us as cultural organizations to help our communities move forward from this pandemic. It’s great and wonderful and essential, obviously, for people to get back to work and be in the workplace. But organizations like ours provide something else. A community is not a good, strong, vibrant community without cultural institutions.

We always have been focused on the inspirational stories of our community, but I think it’ll be even more important moving forward. We have to be optimistic. How we can inspire people to be unafraid, and to know that we will get past this, and that we will learn from it? Maybe we’ll have a better perspective on how much our community means to us and how we can be better members of our community by helping each other and supporting each other.”

-Jane Lang, Executive Director, Neenah Historical Society

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